Imperfect Gift

Imperfect Gift
Imperfect Gift
Full Overview Of Imperfect Gift

In property law and estate planning, the concept of an “imperfect gift” is highly important. An imperfect gift occurs when a donor tries to transfer property or assets to a recipient, but the transfer is not completed according to the required legal formalities. It is essential for both donors and recipients to understand the details of imperfect gifts to ensure that their intentions are honoured and to avoid potential legal disputes. At DLS Solicitors, we aim to provide a comprehensive overview of imperfect gifts, including their legal framework, implications, and practical considerations.


An imperfect gift is a transfer of property or assets that has not been legally perfected. This means that the donor’s intention to give the asset has not been fully executed in compliance with the legal requirements necessary to effectuate the transfer. The gift remains incomplete and, as a result, may not be legally enforceable.

For a gift to be legally valid, certain requirements must be met:

  1. Intention: The donor must have a clear and unequivocal intention to make a gift.
  2. Delivery: The gift must be delivered to the recipient. This can be physical delivery or symbolic delivery, depending on the nature of the asset.
  3. Acceptance: The recipient must accept the gift. Acceptance can be express or implied.
  4. Legal Formalities: Certain gifts, especially those involving property, require compliance with specific legal formalities such as written documentation, registration, or witnessing.

Types of Imperfect Gifts

Gifts of Personal Property

Personal property includes tangible items like jewellery, artwork, and other personal possessions. An imperfect gift of personal property may occur if the donor expresses an intention to give the item but fails to physically deliver it to the recipient or to ensure that the recipient accepts it.

Gifts of Real Property

Real property, including land and buildings, requires more stringent legal formalities for transfer. An imperfect gift of real property often arises when the donor fails to execute the necessary deeds, register the transfer with the Land Registry, or comply with other statutory requirements.

Gifts of Financial Instruments

Financial instruments such as stocks, bonds, and bank accounts also require specific procedures for transfer. An imperfect gift in this context may result from failing to complete the required paperwork, obtain necessary signatures, or update ownership records with the relevant financial institution.

Gifts in Wills

Gifts made through wills can be imperfect if the will is not executed according to legal requirements or if there is ambiguity in the language used. Issues can also arise if the assets specified in the will are not clearly identified or if the will is contested.

Equity and Imperfect Gifts

The doctrine of equity plays a crucial role in addressing issues related to imperfect gifts. Equity is a branch of law that aims to achieve fairness and justice, particularly in cases where strict application of legal rules would result in an unjust outcome. Equity can sometimes “perfect” an imperfect gift under certain circumstances.

Key Case Law

Several landmark cases have shaped the legal understanding of imperfect gifts in the UK:

1. Milroy v Lord (1862)

This case established the principle that equity will not perfect an imperfect gift. The donor in this case attempted to transfer shares by executing a deed of transfer but failed to register the transfer with the company. The court held that the gift was incomplete and could not be perfected by equity.

2. Re Rose (1952)

In contrast to Milroy v Lord, this case demonstrated an exception where equity intervened to perfect an imperfect gift. The donor had executed all necessary documents to transfer shares but died before the transfer was registered. The court held that the gift was effective in equity because the donor had done everything in their power to complete the transfer.

3. Pennington v Waine (2002)

This case further expanded the exceptions where equity can perfect an imperfect gift. The donor intended to transfer shares, and although the necessary documents were not completed, the court found that it would be unconscionable to deny the transfer because the donor had taken significant steps towards completing it, and the recipient had relied on the gift.

Practical Considerations

Steps to Ensure a Perfect Gift

To avoid the complications associated with imperfect gifts, donors should take the following steps:

  1. Clear Intent: Ensure that the intention to make a gift is clear and unequivocal. Document this intention if possible.
  2. Proper Delivery: Complete the delivery of the gift according to the type of asset. For physical items, ensure actual transfer; for financial instruments, complete all necessary paperwork and update records.
  3. Recipient Acceptance: Ensure that the recipient is aware of and accepts the gift.
  4. Legal Formalities: Comply with all relevant legal formalities, including registration, witnessing, and documentation.

Role of Legal Professionals

Engaging legal professionals can help ensure that gifts are properly executed and legally valid. Solicitors can assist with drafting documents, navigating legal requirements, and providing advice on the best practices for transferring different types of assets.

Addressing Imperfect Gifts

If an imperfect gift is identified, legal professionals can advise on possible remedies. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to complete the necessary formalities, seek equitable relief, or resolve disputes through negotiation or litigation.

Implications of Imperfect Gifts

For Donors

Imperfect gifts can have significant implications for donors, including:

  • Unintended Consequences: Failure to properly execute a gift can result in the donor’s intentions not being honoured, leading to potential disputes among heirs or beneficiaries.
  • Legal Disputes: Imperfect gifts can lead to legal disputes, which can be costly and time-consuming to resolve.
  • Tax Implications: Imperfect gifts may have unintended tax consequences, as incomplete transfers can affect the donor’s estate and tax liabilities.

For Recipients

Recipients of imperfect gifts may face various challenges, including:

  • Uncertainty: Uncertainty about the validity of the gift can create stress and financial instability for the recipient.
  • Legal Costs: Resolving disputes related to imperfect gifts can incur significant legal costs.
  • Loss of Benefits: Recipients may lose the intended benefits of the gift if it is deemed legally invalid

Addressing Common Scenarios

Gifts of Property

To ensure the proper transfer of real property, donors should:

  • Execute a Deed: Prepare and sign a deed of transfer.
  • Register the Transfer: Ensure the transfer is registered with the Land Registry.
  • Comply with Legal Formalities: Meet all statutory requirements, including witnessing and documentation.

Gifts of Financial Assets

For financial assets, the following steps should be taken:

  • Complete Necessary Paperwork: Fill out all required forms and obtain necessary signatures.
  • Update Ownership Records: Ensure that the transfer is reflected in the records of the relevant financial institution.
  • Communicate with Institutions: Work with banks, brokerage firms, and other institutions to complete the transfer process.

Gifts Through Wills

To avoid issues with gifts in wills, consider the following:

  • Clear Drafting: Use clear and unambiguous language in the will.
  • Legal Compliance: Ensure the will is executed in accordance with legal requirements, including witnessing and signatures.
  • Specific Identification: Clearly identify the assets and recipients in the will.

Equitable Solutions

Applying for Equitable Relief

In cases of imperfect gifts, applying for equitable relief may be an option. This involves seeking a court order to enforce the donor’s intention based on principles of fairness and justice. Legal professionals can assist in preparing and presenting such applications.

Doctrine of Donatio Mortis Causa

The doctrine of donatio mortis causa (gift in contemplation of death) provides an alternative means of perfecting an imperfect gift. This doctrine applies when a donor makes a gift in anticipation of their imminent death, and the gift becomes effective upon the donor’s death if certain conditions are met.


Rectification is a legal remedy that allows for the correction of errors in legal documents to reflect the true intentions of the parties. In the context of imperfect gifts, rectification can be sought to correct mistakes that prevented the gift from being completed.


Getting the legalities right when giving or receiving gifts is crucial. Making sure gifts are properly executed and legally valid is important to honour the donor’s intentions and provide certainty for the recipients. Understanding the legal requirements, seeking professional advice, and taking proactive steps to complete the necessary formalities can help avoid the hassles associated with imperfect gifts.

At DLS Solicitors, we provide expert guidance and support for estate planning and property transfers. Whether you are planning to make a gift or dealing with an imperfect gift, our experienced team can provide personalized advice and comprehensive legal services. Feel free to contact us for more information or assistance with your estate planning needs.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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